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Myrna, Mandlawitz, Esq. LDA, Director of Public Policy

LDA has been busy over the last few months working for YOU in Washington!  This article will provide you with highlights of some of those activities.  We also invite LDA members to keep up to date through our monthly Legislative News and LDA social media.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Now that Congress has acted to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) through ESSA, the U.S. Department of Education must assist states and school districts to implement the law through regulations and guidance.  In early May the Department took the first step in developing draft regulations through a negotiated rulemaking process.  ESSA required the Department to use this arcane process regarding two provisions of the law – supplement/not supplant and assessments.  The process utilizes a panel of stakeholders who work from draft language provided by the Department to come to consensus on proposed regulations.  After approval by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Department requests public comment on the draft regulations.  In addition to the two topics already mentioned, the Department has developed proposed regulations on accountability and will also work on proposals regarding the provisions on state plans and several other topics.

The rulemaking panel came to consensus on the draft assessment rules.  However, they did not reach agreement on supplement/not supplant.  The Department must now come up with a more workable draft on that issue and submit it to OMB and solicit public comments.

School districts must fully implement ESSA in school year 2017-18.  To assist them, in addition to the formal regulatory process, the Department has sent a request for the public to suggest areas where non-regulatory guidance might be useful.  They are looking for input on a number of areas, including how to expand early learning, strategies to recruit and retain teachers and leaders, and specialized instructional support services.  The Department also announced plans to develop guidance on foster care, homeless youth, and English learners.  LDA is in the process of developing comments in response to this request.

IDEA Regulations

The Department of Education is taking another look at regulations to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) regarding significant disproportionality based on race and ethnicity in special education.  They have proposed new regulations, and LDA will be providing comments in response to those proposals.

Specifically, the Department proposes a uniform state methodology to determine disproportionality in local school districts. Three areas are scrutinized: identification, especially in certain categories of disability; placement in certain educational settings; and, the incidence, type, and duration of disciplinary actions, including suspensions and expulsions.  The particular categories states must examine include specific learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, emotional disturbance, speech or language impairments, other health impairments, and autism.

For districts identified with significant disproportionality, current law requires them to use early intervening funds – 15 percent of their IDEA state grant funds – to address that issue.  The proposed regulations would allow school districts to use the those funds for students with and without disabilities. Current regulations allow the use of these funds only for students not yet identified as having disabilities.  The regulation would also expand the universe of students to age 3 through grade 12, whereas currently funds may only be used for students in kindergarten through grade 12.

Other Activities

LDA is following closely the appropriations (spending) process for the next federal fiscal year (FY), FY 2017, which begins on October 1, 2016.  Unfortunately, for quite a few years Congress has not completed its deliberations in a timely fashion on the 12 spending bills that fund all federal agencies.  That has required passage of a continuing resolution (CR) that keeps the government open while Congress decides on specific funding for each federal program and activity.

Once again it is highly likely Congress will have to take the CR route.  There is very little time to complete the process before Congress leaves for the political nominating conventions in July and their August recess.  Once they return after Labor Day, there will be only a few legislative days before they adjourn to continue campaigning for the November elections.  LDA will keep you posted as the process plays out.

Remember:  LDA is working for YOU in Washington!  One of the major benefits of membership in LDA is having eyes and ears on all legislative and administrative actions that affect individuals with specific learning disabilities.  You have a great opportunity now, as well, with the shift to more state responsibility under ESSA.  Make sure you find out about the stakeholder process in your state and become a part of it!  Stay tuned for regular updates!

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